8.28.2006

Charge This!

Why do people get mired in credit card debt? Is Donald Trump drowning in debt? What about Oprah? I doubt it.

People use credit cards to buy what their incomes can't. For some, it could mean a new car, (can you "charge" a car?) It could mean expensive vacations, designer clothes, pricey restaurants, and other luxuries. For others, putting it on plastic means the difference between buying groceries or not.

Maybe some of us need to lower our expectations to match our incomes. And maybe a lot of banks would lose a lot of profit if everyone cut up their plastic and decided-- going forward into forever-- to live within their means. To buy only what their paychecks could support, and no more.

What would it mean if everyone who charged a doctor's or a dental appointment, or a week's worth of groceries, or a new T.V. just decided to do without all of the above? Or stayed home on their days off because they didn't want to charge gas on the Visa or Mastercard? Would it make a difference? You know it would.

This is how I have lived since 1997. Without plastic: living withing the narrow confines of my low wage jobs. I don't eat in restaurants, unless someone invites me out with them. I don't take vacations. I don't buy electronics. My stereo was a Christmas gift. I don't pay for car washes. The rain does it for free. I buy used CD's and DVDs. My T.V. set was given to me, used. I wear blue jeans that are thirteen years old. I don't have cable or satellite T.V. If I need shoes, I buy them only when they're marked down, or at discount or thrift stores. I drink water only-- no juice, or soda, or iced tea. I dropped all the extras from my phone service. This is how I have managed to survive (barely) on my low wage jobs.

If I had been paid a living wage all these years, I would have spent it on: electronics, new CD's, caller ID, call waiting, voice mail, a bigger apartment, or maybe even a more permanent home, and acupuncture--for my health problems-- because I know it works. I would've made upgrades to my car, had dental work, and made trips to visit out of state relatives -- who died while I was too damn poor to see them. I would have gone on vacations; seen other places in this big, beautiful country. I would have spent money on my family, and that money would have poured into the economy; the one we all have to live in. And I'm not alone.

Multiply me by all the low wage workers who do without necessities, who do without luxuries, who never go on vacations, who never buy cars, who recycle used things; clothes and T.V.'s and anything else they can't afford. Who is really benefiting from all the low wage jobs in this country?

The banks, I'd say, and the landlords. And when all the low wage workers who can't afford to live on their incomes finally max out their credit and default on the payments, the collection agencies benefit.

The banks peddling credit cards, and the collection agencies threatening debtors then create more low wage jobs in their call centers. More low wage jobs to keep the machinery grinding. (That's why they call it grinding poverty.) Until they move their call centers to India, that is. Or inside the walls of U.S. prisons, where the labor is free.

In our present state of affairs, people who do essential work are paid starvation wages. In order to survive, they pay part of their poverty wages to credit mongers that keep them indentured. It is a modified version of debtor's prisons.

You don't believe janitors, farm laborers, meat packers, and retail workers do essential work? Sure. Grow and pick your own food, slaughter and process your own steaks and hot dogs. Shop at Walmart after all the janitorial staff have taken a three day vacation-- just don't use the restrooms. Try to find something to buy at Target when the stockers and cashiers and truck loaders all took the week off-- all at the same time. If you can get through the piles of trash in the parking lots. And if you can find a shopping cart...

Firefighters, paramedics, emergency room doctors and nurses, cops--all are generally viewed as "essential" service providers. You'll get no argument from me about that. But in addition, all work done in our society, for our society, is essential. A hospital emergency room with biohazardous trash all over the floor and dirty bathrooms is not going to be a real healthy place. Vegetables that rot in the fields because there are no workers to pick them are not feeding people. A warehouse full of baby food, diapers, medicines, food and bottled water is not going to benefit anyone if there are no workers to load these things onto the trucks, drive the trucks, unload the trucks at the stores, stock the shelves, and collect money at the checkout lanes.

It's time to rethink "essential" as it applies to work. It's time to restore the "dignity of labor" that Dr. King spoke about. And as the unions say today: it's time to "Make Work Pay." It's time to free working folks from debt peonage. Time to end wage slavery.

I don't trust politics, or most politicians, although I'm seen some stellar exceptions. This is not a political blog. But there are good and bad elements in all things, even politicians. This particular message that came my way is about a senate bill, S.3485, introduced June 8 by Senator Byron Dorgan (ND). A companion bill, H.R. 5635 was introduced June 16 by representative Sherrod Brown. It's titled the "Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act."
If passed, it will for the first time hold corporations legally accountable to respect human and worker rights by prohibiting import, sale, or export of sweatshop goods in the U.S. There's more at http://www.nlcnet.org/

Why should we in the U.S. care about working conditions for people in other countries? I'll tell you why: because the economy is global now, and workers in other countries are our fellow workers. The conditions they labor under directly impact us. Here's why:

In the 1980's a lot of little towns, including in New York state where I'm from, had economies anchored by manufacturing plants. Paper products, digital electronics, Levi's jeans; to name a few. These places, too remote from major cities and seaports to be tourist economies, bled factories during the eighties, when it became cheaper for American corporations to run their operations on foreign soil and pay workers in other countries pennies a day, with no benefits and no OSHA health and safety laws to comply with. Companies moved their plants to Mexico, and when Vietnamese labor turned out to be cheaper, the same companies abandoned Mexico, and moved to Vietnam, or Jordan, or Bangladesh. For global corporations, borders are no deterrent. But you already knew this, right?

I don't need to retell you the story of Detroit and the auto industry.

A one world economy needs a one world set of worker protections. Health and safety standards, and wages people can live on without resorting to credit cards. What corporations do to workers in Vietnam, Bagladesh, and Jordan today, they will do to American workers tomorrow. In some cases, they already have. Tell your representatives you support these bills, and support your fellow workers, wherever in the world they may be. An injury to one is an injury to all.

1 comment:

Scott William said...

Cris,
Ideally, I agree with you about the "one world set of worker rights". However, the problem - as with all global policy- always comes down to enforcement. I'm sure any politician would support a global policy here in America, but there's nothing that can really be done in making the main perpetrators (i.e. Southeast Asian countries) stop the "slave labor madness." The world can't even get Southeast Asia to enforce issues related to slavery and the illegal sex trade despite international law, so how would anyone get them to fix worker rights? That said, I'd agree with the nature of these bills ,but as for the effectiveness, who's going to tell China and Southeast Asia what to do? And if they do, will they listen.. or care?